The climate of Sydney, warm in the summer and cool in the winter with a good bit of rainfall, is ideal for many types of plants. Gardening is a forgiving activity, and the first time gardener is bound to make some mistakes as well as have happy accidents. With that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts for garden maintenance in Sydney:
Spring is the time to start sowing hardy annuals and vegetables outside though more tender plants such as tomatoes and aubergines can be started indoors. Prune the roses before the new growth begins. When it comes to hedge trimming, cut back evergreen shrubs if they look a bit ragged. This encourages new growth from the base. Spring is also time to refresh the mulch. One “don’t” to remember is not to let the mulch touch the crown of the plant, which is where the stem or trunk meets the root, and to not add too much mulch. A four inch thick layer around a mature tree is good. When it comes to lawn care, the gardener should resist taking out the mower too soon even though the grass will be lush by the end of the season. If it’s really rampant, grass should be mowed to no more than a third of the height of the blade. Taking off too much will traumatise the grass, and roots of taller blades of grass are better at penetrating deep into the soil to get nutrients. As for landscaping, repair fences, posts and walls that have been damaged by the winter weather. Replace cracked pavers and repair cracks in patios and driveways.
Early summer is the time to fertilise the lawn. This gives the grass strength to endure periods of drought and heat. The lawn should be fed every other month until the fall. When mowing the lawn, leave the grass clippings where they fall because they add nutrients to the soil. Add milky spore and nematodes to the grass to take care of grubs, and make sure to pull up or eradicate weeds while they are seedlings. Deadhead and prune spring flowering shrubs and cut down herbaceous perennials after they’ve finished. This encourages them to bring forth new flowers. When it comes to pruning, make sure that the cut is about one quarter of an inch above the bud and slopes away from it at a 45 degree angle. This allows rain to flow away from the bud and lowers the risk of rot. Cuts that are too deep or too shallow either don’t heal well or dry out. Summer is also the time to stake tall plants such as delphiniums to keep them from flopping over and to lift and divide primroses after they’ve finished flowering. Make sure to keep the birdbath filled during the hot weather. Empty it out and refresh it every day. Another “don’t” for garden maintenance is to not water plants in the evening. This encourages disease. Water them early in the morning to allow them to get a drink before the sun gets hot.
Autumn is the time to plant bulbs that will bloom in the spring. Make sure they are planted with the root end down. One thing to do if there are a lot of bulbs is just to toss them over the planting area and simply plant them where they fall. This makes for a more natural looking display in the spring. Take out summer plants, and replace them with cool weather plants. Fall is an ideal time to plant trees, including fruit trees. If the tree’s roots are wrapped in burlap, make sure to cut away the roots that are wrapped around the root ball so they won’t strangle the tree. Consider how large the tree will be when it is mature, and don’t plant it too close to the house or another structure. Don’t plant trees or shrubs over septic systems, for their roots will eventually infiltrate the main drain. As for lawn care, fall is the time to aerate the lawn. During aeration, a machine that resembles a lawn mower pulls pulls plugs out of the lawn to allow oxygen, water and nutrients to get to the roots. Areas of the lawn that have been compacted due to traffic should be forked up, and finally the gardener should broadcast some top dressing and work it in with a garden fork. Put out bird feeders to encourage the birds to come to the garden when food is scarce. Just as the season is ending, make sure that tools, including the lawn mower, are in good shape, and put them away for the winter.
Some people believe that work in the garden is done during the winter, but that’s not entirely true. Tree and shrubs can still be planted if the ground isn’t too wet. After that, just sit by the fire and go through the seed and plant catalogues and consider what to order for next year.